This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Soul canceled out

I had an appointment with the only endocrinologist in town yesterday morning.

Not really -- it had been canceled back in November.

But I didn't know that.

So I bathe, put on fresh clothes and a fresh face, drive to work, open up the doors to our department in the Library, take my umbrella, walk over to the medical complex a few blocks away, find the doctor's suite, enter the waiting room, and wait among the other women for my turn with the receptionist.

She appears to be agitated about my being there.

I am called over, and in hushed tones, told that there has to have been some mistake. She looks over my papers, says, "Mm hmm," disapprovingly it seems to me, and points to the acronym "MTF" in my notes.

"He doesn't do that kind of work."

Our eyes lock. I am being dismissed. As nicely as she can manage it, but still...

The only endocrinologist that will touch me within a two-hundred mile radius is in Portland.

I leave meekly enough, but as I step out into the rain, I do cry a little. No enough so's anybody would notice.

I walk back to campus, and I walk to another world entirely, a place where I'm welcomed, appreciated for who I am and what I do, and where, by policy, I can use the restroom and even locker room of my choice, if I so desire. I cross an invisible line: it all looks the same, and yet nobody here (at least officially) thinks I'm not a person or don't have the right to exist. And, sure enough, I don't seem to be doing any harm ... here.

A fellow worker asks me to lunch. As we pass by the front desk, she says to the librarian on duty, "I'm taking this girl for a walk!" And it is a lovely walk, and a great lunch. She has made a five-course Chinese dinner in containers, and has them all with her in a print-fabric carryall, and zaps each container in the student-union microwave, then fills my plate with amazing things of which I do not know the name, but thoroughly enjoy. "Eat, eat! All this is good! Good for your whole body. Good for your soul."

But, still ... only if I have one.

I went to bed at 6:30 pm.

"He doesn't do that kind of work."

Tried reading a book by Carl Larsson. No help.

"He doesn't do that kind of work."

National Geographic. Nope.

"He doesn't do that kind of work."

Little Women. No.

"He doesn't do that kind of work."

I moved the pillows around, rearranged blankets, got up, got water, sorted some clothes, went back to bed, put a pillow under the backs of my knees, looked at the ceiling, and moped.

See, if he's a specialist and I'm not his specialty, OK. But it didn't sound like that was it. I felt a little bit disapproved of. Not really by her, very nice lady. But him. At one very safe remove. I felt as though someone I had never met, and likely would never meet, had judged me as a person, and voted the other way than the three hundred or so that do know me.

As in, not worthy of his medical assistance for some reason.

Religion? We covered the answer to that a few weeks ago (Luke 10:25-37).

Perhaps a misunderstanding as to who we are? Whether or not we're driven by necessity rather than choice? There is plenty of evidence there, too -- as witness our fifteen to twenty percent attempted suicide rate, which is directly attributable to transphobia. People tell us, in little ways and big, that we shouldn't exist -- and after being told this enough times, we tend to become a little too obliging.

But even if he does feel that way -- not saying he does, I'm only speculating -- if he does -- and this is about withholding treatment from the unworthy ... or even if he were right about us ...

Well, then, when someone who has smoked for thirty years comes in with cancer, does the receptionist point to SMOKER on the papers and say, "I'm sorry, he only does people who didn't give themselves this disease?"

No treatment for cirrhosis?

Skiing accidents?

At the scene of the auto accident, does an EMT say, "No, don't do that one, she wasn't wearing her seat belt?"

Assuming the refusal to treat is, in this case, anything whatever other than that this is outside his area of expertise or he's just got a full schedule, then what we have here is a violation of the oath of Hippocrates.

-- risa b

Thursday, March 24, 2005

How pleased I was

Couple of days ago, I was out grocery shopping, and the checker lady says "how are we doing today, honey?" Wow. I would buy the whole store just to hear that.


I saw Beloved off for a long day's journey, through icy rain alternating with blinding sunlight, to take our granddaughter to the Coast Aquarium for the day. This is the place that was the home of Willy, the Orca, for a while. They haven't been as famous since, but they're quietly building a solid reputation in care, education, and science. The plexiglass tunnel is everyone's favorite, and sometimes entire school classes or Scout troops spend the night there, bedding down in sleeping bags in the eerie glow as dozens of Leopard Sharks swim around, underneath, and over them.

I had my own appointments, unfortunately -- besides not being fond of crowds. I drove through the lovely countryside south of here, to the small town hospital where our doctor works; daffodils everywhere, almost done with their season already, and the rivers up and muddy but only a little. It's so strange, knowing we're in a devastating drought, watching the irrigation systems already going in the orchards through the windshield with the wipers going, listening to the rain on the roof of the car.

At the counter the three intake ladies know me well by now, and cluck over my my bad luck at still having the same insurance card.

"But the lawyer says the judge had no problem with my new name, and I can go get the papers on the seventh of April!"

They all beam at me. "About time, too. Congratulations!"

It has only recently dawned on me that waiting rooms are the time and place to write letters, which is almost a lost art. I've brought along a poignant notecard, by my artist friend whom I visited a few weeks ago after her husband died. It shows him sitting, resting, facing the window, as she sketched behind him, in the Community Center across the road from their house.

I use it to write my oldest son a letter. He is, or will be soon, 37, a man in the prime of life with a stunning and brilliant wife, two outrageously beautiful daughters, and responsibilities that span the globe. We've tried talking on the phone, but we don't know each other as well as we should. I've been known to look up the box scores on his alma mater's team just to get an idea of something to chat about. (The men's basketball team made the NCAAs this year). He is three thousand miles away, when he's home. I have not yet met my youngest grandchild, and she's already talking. I'm aware that these lacks have been my doing. That shouldn't embarrass me into not writing, however. One cannot repair the past, only the future.

My first stop is the blood lady, who is grumpy again this time. I can't tell if it's about me; perhaps not, as last time she made a comment to me about the snow on the hills when she was taking a little break in the waiting room, and I know she knew who I was. I want to tell her, life is short, you can lighten up -- but I might make matters worse. Her hands are very gentle, even so. I tell her she is the best. She hesitates.

"Thanks." Like biting through a bitter pill. But at least she said it.

I finish the letter in the waiting room, and am called in to Mammography by a short woman, sternly dressed, who does look as though she disapproves of me. She calls me "Rissa," unsure of the pronunciation. I don't correct her.

Last week, when I made the appointment, I could almost hear her eyebrows arching, across the phone wires. And why do you need this kind of appointment?

I had explained that my name would change soon, and that I had been on estrogen since August 7, 2003, and my doctor was ordering the exam as a baseline and initial screening. Her manner had softened -- a little.

She looks like a bulldog on wheels.

I'm shown into a small room with a strange-looking apparatus dominating the middle of the floor. It's about seven feet tall, and has two rails on either hand, from floor to top, and a large leaded glass plate, vertical, down one side. In the front part there's a bellows, a horizontal glass plate, a camera system, a plateholder, and two sets of foot switches. It looks like a phone booth for a segmented alien.

I'm left alone for a bit to chuck aside my turtletneck and bra-cami and put on a little white cape that opens in the front. While she's gone, I check out a colorful poster on the wall.

It's lilies, photographed with some kind of x-ray process. You can see, in effect, cutaways of the interiors, with stamens, pistils, the glistening inner wall of the tubelike stalks.

She's back. Still a little wierded out.

"This is spectacular." I indicate the artwork.

I seem to have said the right thing. She brightens up; almost smiles.

"That's my next machine. That's what it can do. It's time to replace this one -- " looking at the cream-yellow phone booth in repugnance " -- but it's taking awhile to get it in, it costs four hundred thousand."

"And I'm sure, worth every penny." I think I may have made a friend.

She explains the procedure. We'll do four shots, two on each side, the first two using a frighteningly thorough flattening process.

"Raise your shoulder a little. Put your head back. Kind of a Cleopatra pose. Good!"

She manages the bellows with the foot switch, and it seems as though it's up to her skills to avoid maiming me for life. Just as I'm realizing just how flat this is going to be, I begin to remember that I'm still growing -- as in sore.

I grip the rail and try to look at some other place in the universe -- perhaps there's an alien placing a call to me.

"Hoooold your breath!" Click. BZZZZZZZZZZT. Click.

It's all I can do not to faint. But it's over soon enough.

"So, is your left bigger than the one on the right?" She's the second person ever to have seen them, besides me. Eye of a pro; she's seen hundreds, if not thousands of breasts. I don't feel at all shy with her. A little tongue-tied, due to the newness of the situation, but not shy. In fact, I'm getting happier by the minute.

"Uh ... umm, I'm taller on the left, so that would make sense."

"How are you, did that hurt a lot?" Now she is smiling, perhaps a little smugly? Surely not. She's crusty, but there's a good heart here.

"Uhh, aahhh, well, those first two were the real deal, but, you know, I'm going to electrolysis from here."

"Oh, well, that's worse. I think we get a little undeserved reputation in here from people who aren't used to a little discomfort. You can get dressed now, and just leave the little cape behind. Exit is on the left."

"Thank you." I say it slowly enough for her to get that this means a lot to me, and add the ASL sign as well, waving my hand from my chin toward her, palm up. She smiles again, but she's not going to stay and chat. She darts off like a hummingbird.

I dress, smoothe down my sweater, check around to make sure I'm not leaving anything, and out of the corner of my eye I spot the cape. I've tossed it aside, rumpled, like any man would do. This is a women's inner sanctum. I have to do better than that. She's honored me with her patience and respect, after all, and I might be the first transwoman she's had to do.

I pick up the little square of muslin, shake it out, fold it four times, and leave it on the chair. Then, for good measure, I straighten up all the jostled magazines on the side table.

There, I tell her in my mind. Just so you'll know how pleased I was to be able to come here.

-- risa

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The restroom question continued

On the phone, I was telling my son, the autistic one (he's 21 now and working as a TV cameraman) about the meetings I've been attending on the City Code amendment.

Our City Code has a non-discrimination policy on the books, and for race, gender, religion, or sexual preference, it works. Our Human Rights Commission wants to add "gender identity and gender expression." The opposition to this innocuous little addition has been intense -- more than there was to adding sexual preference.

"And the sad thing is," I told him, "Nearly all the opposition is about keeping predators out of the ladies' restroom, and yet there's no law here that says a man can't go into the women's restroom."

"And you people aren't the predators."

"Right! Predators are people with an overdose of testosterone! Rape is about power, male power, and transfolk are, like, as unempowered as it gets!"

"So, maybe the code makes people build extra bathrooms? Maybe they're really using all this fear to just not be spending any money on that."

"No, it doesn't call for any new construction at all. It just says, 'don't discriminate in employment, housing, and public accommodations.' Meaning just that: don't fire me if I'm a good worker, don't throw me out of my apartment for wearing lipstick, and do provide a safe place for me to go to the bathroom."

"That doesn't mean build bathrooms?"

"Unh-unh ... most small businesses have small ones ... if you take down the signs that are on them now, and put up signs that just say, "Restroom," and put a deadbolt on, you're done. For the bigger ones, if you're allowed to go to the one that you're most comfortable in, feel the safest in, that's probably because you look more like the people there and they're less likely to beat you up than in the other one. That makes it your call, that's all."

"Come to think of it," I added, feeling bright all of a sudden, "it's actually cheaper."

"How so?" He likes to draw me out.

"Well, say you're a mean old guy and you've got a little sweatshop, and twenty genetic women working, not a transwoman among 'em, 'cuz you're a God-fearing businessman and won't hire those -- those things. Not that you'd know ... 'K, you've got two one-holers. One's for you, and one's for them. They line up outside that one. You're losing money. Take down the signs and put in the latches, you've got two lines, lower stress in your workers, higher productivity. Everywhere it's been tried, they find this out."

"So, it's like the porta-potties at the county fair." [I know I said this a few days ago, but this is where I stole it from.]

"Exactly! Why didn't I think of that?"

"Y'know," says the guy -- he's a registered Republican, in case you were wondering, told me to tell y'all that -- "there's another benefit to unisex restrooms you people never seem to mention."

"Uh, which is ... ?"


"Come again?"

"They're a lot cleaner. The ones that were men's rooms before, they're not a health hazard any more."

"You're right, I never thought about that. So why is that, do you know?"

"Yep. The guys are embarrassed thinking about the girls in the office knowing how bad their habits are. Never bothers them that the janitorial lady knows, mind you, but the secretaries -- yeah. So they flush, they pick up their newspapers, they put used stuff in the trash can, and they put the lid down. They'll even run water in the sink to make the girls think they washed their hands."

"Omigod. I don't want to hear any more, thanks."

"Just trying to help." He's grinning, I can tell.

"Listen, the last time I was in a men's room was two hundred and twenty days ago. I think that place completed my transition. You're right -- I've been to lots of uni's and they're as clean as the ladies' rooms."

"There ya go. You can have that one free, if it'll help your cause any."

"Can I post it?"

"Yeah. Tell 'em autistics and trannies are people, same as they are. But, now, fatties ... "

"I will not."

"What? I'm fat. First to admit it. Just takin' up space, lady. No wider seats on the airplanes, I say. No special rights, heh heh heh." He's almost giggling, which is rare in people with Asperger's.

I huff. "Some people have thyroid conditions, you know. "

"Not that many."

"And you: it's part of the condition, your appetite has no off switch."

"We just eat too much. I could fix it if I thought there was any point."

"What-ev-v-ver. I'm hanging up, son; I think this conversation is about to become unreportable."

"Suit yourself. But don't let 'em get to you."

"Why, thank you!"

"Nothing altruistic about it. Need you for some projects -- and pizza!"

"Bye bye, fella."


Yeesh. Good kid. Scares me sometimes.


Every now and again someone says, "Somebody ought to go see these people, do some educating." So I say, "I'll go!" Later someone tells me that "these people," the conservatives, the religious right, would make mincemeat out of me, that I'm naive to think I can change them. That it's been tried, etc. etc.

Y'know, as far as the naivete, though, seriously -- why assume I'm a beginner? I'm new to admitting I'm trans but I've been an activist for fifty years. I was a campaigner for Presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. I did non-violence training with the National Coalition for Peace and Justice, the National Peace Action Coalition, and the Mayday Collective in Washington, DC in 1971. I did jail time against the Vietnam war. And look at us now, in Iraq. I quite understand that "futility" is a word that could possibly quite fairly be used to describe my past, present and future efforts.

But maybe one or two will pay attention. Maybe we should be taking somebody to lunch instead of shaking our heads over what we think they will say or do.

But, OK, say it's futile. Should some mean-eyed "religious" hypocrite get away with saying, when he gets to the pearly gates they're so proud of, that it's not fair not to let him in (which is what's gonna happen) because nobody warned him?

I think we've got to be prepared, sometimes, to go where the hate is. The right next thing to do is not always the safest next thing to do.

My adopted sister, Trisha Black, was a black woman, a civil rights activist. Took a lot of risks. Then she went to Atlanta University and became a children's librarian. She died young -- and alone -- in a completely senseless home-invasion rape and robbery.

I think about her a lot.

Beautiful, brave, selfless, smart, loving, good all the way through -- and never got to say goodbye. Knowing her, the fire she got in her eye over hurt people, I think she would rather have died while marching for you and me. Make some sense of it, then.


I'll tell you another one, while I've got you here.

The breaking point, I'm told, in India, was when the colonial authorities ordered their engineer to drive the train right through Gandhi's crowd, mostly Untouchables, sitting on the rails. After the first twenty or so bodies disappeared underneath the engine, the massive iron driver wheels lost traction. Blood is a good lubricant; it's designed to slip through arteries and veins with a minimum of fuss. The engineer turned to the administrators and said, "that's it, guvnor, I'm done. You can shoot me, whatever. I ain't going to run over no more people."

And India got its freedom.

-- risa

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The restroom question

I have not used a men's room in 221 days. Men had begun to make it clear to me that that was how it was going to be.

I'm aware that at some point there may be those who will become concerned, because they knew me "when," that I might show up in "their" restrooms.

But, always hoping to be regarded as an inoffensive person, I anticipated that. I asked about alternatives long ago, and was offered access to the administrative restrooms at the other end of the building, which, for reasons of pure efficiency, had been converted to unisex. Very nice, very clean, very private, good mirror. All a girl could ask for. It was only a 1/8 mile round trip, and as a government employee my wages for all this hiking were covered by your taxes.

But I've long since made my move, and nothing could have been more mundane.

Having seen, as they say, "both sides now," I have a few comments I can offer.

Restroom culture is very different in the men's room than in the women's room.

The men come in, spaced as far apart as they can get; if there are three places to stand and there are two of them, they pick the ones on the ends. They don't speak to each other; and they avoid eye contact, focusing on the far "horizon;" they make an effort not to get to the sinks at the same time, and they vanish into the world like ghosts.

The women come in talking together, talk across the stall walls, chat while washing up, stop to talk while one of them fixes up her eyes, and leave together. When the door opens they look to see who it is.

Considering that it's not illegal for, say, a gay man to go into the men's room, or for any man whatever to go into the women's room, what exactly is going on here?

The moment spent voiding, as any deer or antelope will tell you, is the moment of greatest vulnerability, equivalent to bending to reach the water at the watering hole. We're checking, moment by moment, to assure ourselves of our own safety, like the twitching ears of the doe. There are some large and unpredictable animals about.

Men in this culture want to be far from other men while voiding, and restroom facilities aren't very helpful with this. Keeping the eyes front, slightly out of focus, says; "Hey, buddy, go ahead with whatever you're doing there; I won't mug you."

Women want to be sure a man hasn't come in. They're listening for clues: "We're all girls here, right?" Right!

The intensity of the checking increases exponentially when there are small children present. The men who glare at me in restaurants or at rest stops have small children with them. The women most likely to raise a ruckus if they "read" me in the restroom are managing a toddler at the moment.

The usual explanation these people have, when they show up to oppose city code changes that would improve our access to restrooms, is that they don't want predators near the women and children. Sometimes they don't use those words, exactly, but it's what is meant.

Never mind that the statistics show that we aren't predators. The thought of us is just intolerable.

But there's an actual reason for all this worry. We should pay attention, t-girls and t-boys, and be prepared to discuss it with anyone who asks.

Restrooms being small, closed and universally accessible environments, they are easily entered by the presumably nefarious, and not easily defended. You can't run screaming out the back door with your infant in one hand, dialing 911 with the other -- no back door.

If my presentation is the least bit shaky, I become an unknown quantity for two or three vital seconds, during which important decisions have to be made. And the only thing that had been protecting those seconds was tradition: the gender taboo.

(Never mind that what they are worrying about almost never happens. We all need to be able to void and wash up in safety; so even bank robbers and most rapists will abide by the restroom taboos. It's like the truce among predators and prey at the watering hole. But the stress remains, even so.)

Law, at least in this town, does not enforce the taboos, but the restroom "community" at any given moment does. If a woman looks at all like a man, she's forcing the other women to lose those precious two seconds, and they resent it -- even if she was born looking like that.

On our own famously multicultural campus, recently, a woman was yanked out of a restroom by her backpack as she was going in -- by another woman, enforcing the taboo against what she wrongly "knew" to be a guy.

There will be a reaction when they do know it's a woman. Smirking, they'll say: "Hey, are you in the wrong bathroom here?*"
*I stole this point from Feinberg, Transgender Warriors, a must-read history book.

So there are problems, potentially tragic sometimes, for butch-looking women and femme-looking men. But most "normal looking" citizens don't feel motivated to fix it.

The feeling is that without adequate gender markers, the risk of being raped or losing a kid to some impostor cranks up, ever so little. And so the non-standard woman must suffer for the good of all. If this is happening to genetic girls, and if something similar, for slightly different reasons, is happening to genetic boys in the men's rooms, we have to realize what we're up against in working to make the city codes fair.

Because, as they keep telling us, life isn't fair.

Well, I'm a woman, albeit one born under the evil star of the "Y" chromosome. Having raised kids off and on for 37 years, having many friends (my God, why so many) that have been raped, I get what the widening of the eyes is about when the lady at the next sink notices that I have a slight beer gut, large hands, big shoulders, and seem not inclined to make small talk.

I work on my presentation accordingly. I take hormones, do electrolysis (roughly equivalent to walking into a nest of yellow jackets), diet, get my hair permed, wear pink nail polish (very few women that I know bother to do this), jewelry, good "feminine" clothing, and pay for voice coaching. Like most male-to-female transsexuals, I'll be spending close to twenty thousand dollars of my own money, mostly in an effort to find a safe place for me to go to the restroom; I'm not about to miss any opportunity, given the investment, to blend, even if it means coming across as an old maid with bad taste.

Understand; I think it's money well spent to save my fellow women from having to do that inconclusive, scary two-second scan. I can save them that two seconds of bad data by presenting good data, data that says "This is a girl." That will work -- and it does -- in the world. With a few of my co-workers, though, it won't, at least not quickly.

I have a responsibility toward my fellow workers. They understand that, and, hopefully, so do I. They need to have time to get to know me better, that I'm safe, that my presence is appropriate, because even though the idea that I shouldn't be washing up at that sink is mythological, there are real dangers, and my presence fuzzes a line that they had been depending on. I'm the one doing something new and different, and to expect understanding out of the blue is simply unrealistic.

So long as people think it's even possible for me to be a rapist (which it isn't; ask me about anti-androgens and I'll explain), they have a right to a full explanation of what's going on. But they don't have time, as a rule, to stay and hear it. They won't care about fairness because fairness is potentially dangerous, and they have families to raise.

My young activist friends can sometimes be dismissive of these fears, and impatient, and, y'know, even though they're right, they're maybe not getting what it's about when you're trying to track your four-year-old in a public space. Be patient. educate. Be kind.

Educate on how fairness works, and why we should bother.

Fair isn't especially natural, or natural behavior, but it is civilized behavior. It's about making sure everyone gets a chance to participate in the polis.

The gender-variant population faces an impossible dilemma when they come to the words "MEN" and "WOMEN" in their own moment of vulnerability. They are now in danger; and the solution that has been the accepted one till now, of shaming and ostracizing them, year in and year out, for being different, is messy.

If you have never cleaned up after a suicide you may not quite understand what I just said.

Most of the time I could care less about whether the bathrooms are fair; I'm interested in using one, and the deal I'm often offered, that it would fine with all of y'all for me to just stand halfway between the doors with my knees pressed together, means I get to be too stressed to be as useful a citizen as I might.

"So what," says someone. "What," says I, "is this is keeping people down who could be doing you some good." Making them out to be bad, when they aren't, and well people out to be sick, when they aren't, gets people fired that were good employees, loses them housing, punishes them where there was no crime, and so contributes no gain to society, but a measurable loss. In other words, smug is seldom smart.

We are airline pilots, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, waitresses, child care workers, professors, businessmen, businesswomen, soldiers (including special forces), secretaries, politicians, tree planters, ranchers, engineers, cooks, models, actresses, designers, roadbuilders, janitors, and missionaries.

We're not curious.

We already know what the restrooms look like.

In spite of transpeople being the only population specifically named by Congress as not eligible for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act for their medically recognized condition, the expressed aim of the framers of the ADA, which was to ensure the full opportunity for participation in society of all, still applies.

People have talents. People like to help other people. When anyone is prevented from full participation in society, the loss is not theirs alone, but occurs to the society as a whole. Only if everyone has access to full participation can there be a fully civil society. We will generally discover that, as with accommodation to the needs of wheelchair users, or to the visually or hearing impaired, everyone benefits.

Redesign of a few customs, accordingly, turns out to be a plus for all. Curb cuts were designed for wheelchairs. Bicyclists, users of walkers, people with large carts or wheelbarrows discover they appreciate the change.

My favorite restroom design is exemplified by the little cheap potty that sits in a row of such potties at large events, or in its own little corner on construction sites and the like. It has a handle that turns to latch the door, turning a little circular sign to the word "occupied" as it does so. It's strictly unisex. Nobody posts "Men" or "Women" on them because then some of them couldn't be used some of the time. Unisex is cost effective. I look for unisex restrooms wherever I go, because I feel safer in them even when all the other women around have no issues with me. We'll get to why in a little bit. For now, let's just point out that the availability of unisex restrooms increases the carrying capacity of a building, reduces overall stress, and adds to workplace productivity.

Some communities have this figured out.

In the U.S. as of this writing, five states, ten counties, and sixty-one cities have passed and are enforcing transgender inclusive non-discrimination laws. In all of these, the statistics that have been collected dispel the myth that such laws make bathrooms more dangerous.

OK, that was the education part.

But myths exist for a reason. Now, there are some people I'm going to except from the following, and my gentlemen friends and my FTM brothers will understand whom, and why. But the rest of us need to hear this.

We can keep repeating the findings. But we shouldn't be dismissive of a woman's need to scan everyone who comes in. I'm one, and I understand that need. It's why I carry pepper spray, fellas.

If a predator does come in, which, as I said, happens rarely, we know. Almost immediately.

He's not dressed as a girl because he's not inclined to go that route. That trick exists mostly in the minds of those who've been exposed to too much propaganda about people like me. So it's a dangerous mistake to be focused on the cross-dresser, drag queen, or transwoman. That's what, I think, this rambling meditation has tried to say.

Dears, he's almost always a heterosexual.

Dressed as a guy.

He's high on something I gave up two years ago.

It's called testosterone.

-- risa b

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Cross and the cuckoo's egg

I have followed with interest recent reports in the LGBT press on Christianity and its presumed attitude toward men who love men, women who love women, women who emerge from the bodies of men, men who discover themselves to have been born women, and children who have been born with indeterminate genitalia.

To me, these are conditions with which we are born, or which reveal themselves, as we go along in life, as imperatives, more so for some than for others. Our having them has little to do with our philosophy of life, or the moral schemes to which we subscribe. So please pardon me if the lines that have been drawn, on both sides of the debate, strike me as somewhat artificial.

Joan of Arc was told by the Inquisition that she would not be executed if she would simply stop dressing as a man. She actually tried. On the morning of the third day, they discovered her, once again, dressed as a man. They remonstrated with her, representing to her, as any reasonable, feeling jailer might, the horrors of living flesh peeling away in the flames, and even of the shameful nakedness that comes, before the eyes of the crowd, as clothing burns away. She would die, in the eyes of the witnesses, an unclothed woman. "I cannot go back from wearing men's clothing," she told them. And the sentence was carried out exactly as they had described it to her.

Some ... are less brave. Lacking support from Joan's divine voices, we go in terror our lives long for fear of being discovered to have been born, or to have found in early childhood that we had had the ill fortune to have hatched from the cuckoo's egg. I learned early on that if my parents found me in my mother's dress, wearing her bracelets, necklace, brooch, earrings and lipstick, wobbling about the living room on her high heels, there would be trouble.

Big trouble.

So I learned, painfully and always awkwardly, but with massive will and attention, to play baseball, to hunt, to fish, to sharpen knives, clean rifles, strip outboard motors, clean game, punch boys, tease girls, play football, tie a four-in-hand, wear cufflinks, carry my books on one side instead of in the middle, and part my hair on the left. It was a relief, later, that my Adam's apple came in, my voice deepened, and my shoulders broadened. Now no one will ever know. I'm safe at last. Over the decades, secure in my testosterone-mandated masculinity, I would skin cats (drive bulldozers), boss forest fires, cruise timber, and skid logs with the best of 'em. I was able to forget, for the time being, the solemn promise I had made to myself when I was eight: when I grow up, I will be a girl.

Our family went to church. We practically lived there. Our church was one of those where Communion appears in every Sunday service, small unleavened crackers on a silver plate, along with a silver dish with some forty holes in its lid, each bearing its own tiny shot glass of reconstituted grape juice. The sermons were about Hell, the place reserved for sinners, and about the appropriate demeanor of wives, and the importance of supporting the church. (Meaning, I now realize, the sermonizer and his family; congregations in our denomination were independent, and relatively little escaped the collection basket to serve a national or international infrastructure. We were encouraged on a regular basis to help fund the conversion to Christianity of the Kiowas, but that was about the extent of our collective philanthropy.)

As a sola scriptura church, we were given many opportunities to become familiar with Scripture. There were two Sunday school sessions before the eleven o'clock service, another at 6:30, before the 7:30 service, another on Tuesday at 7:30 and one on Wednesday at 6:30, before that 7:30 service. And there were constant Bible bees: "Shortest verse?" "Jesus wept, John 11:35!" "Very good!" I attended them all. Each of the 66 books of the (bisexual cross-dresser King) James' version was gone over at least five times by the time I left high school. We read and discussed everything from the Levitical proscription against eating anything that goes on its belly, or all fours, or has many feet ("for they are an abomination," Lev.11:42) to the prophecies of Revelation. We spent much time on the instructions to one of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), though I was never sure why.

One of our activities was a role-reversal where the congregation's young people ran the bible classes and the services for a week. I was given the Wednesday service. I gave the choir their numbers, chose the hymns, and gave the order of service to the Church secretary. I wrote the prayer of invocation, the prayer for forgiveness of sins, the collection prayer, the communion prayer and the invitation, and labored for days over my sermon neglecting dangerously my school paper on the distinctions between the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of geological time. I didn't see any contradiction there between my two worlds; one simply doesn't when raised not to question such matters.

The day came. I directed the music, got through the prayers (always the scariest part for me) and began my sermon.

It was on that resounding passage, from Paul, the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, ending: "...and now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity." Our sermons ran about half an hour. I constructed mine as a meditation on each of the thirteen verses, drawing connection to love-in-action passages elsewhere: The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46), the question of the greatest commandment and Jesus' response (Luke 10:25-37). The small mid-week congregation seemed to like it well enough. I was ecstatic. I can do this, I thought. Perhaps I should go to the Bible college; with the Lord's help I may get to help people.

The following Sunday the preacher asked me into his office for a few minutes. "We appreciate the effort you made last Wednesday night, son;" he began. "I'm concerned, though, as are some of the elders, that the approach you're taking could lead someone not grounded in the Faith to take some things out of context."

I was given to understand that only by emphasizing faith and the hope of resurrection and eternal life could sinners be brought to salvation. Yes, love is the greatest of the three, but when people became confused about how to express it, they were apt to fall prey to the blandishments of ...

... are we all ready for this?

... Communist infiltrators.

In that moment I had a flash of intuition. It's, of course, possible I was mistaken, and if so I apologize to the long-dead ghost of that harried and well-meaning man, who, Lord knows, worked hard enough for his meager pay, and whose wife and children always looked a bit pinched ... but ... rightly or wrongly, the message I got was that too much sermonizing on love might shift income from the pastoral account elsewhere. And thereby lay open before me the root of economics as politics, and the uses of cosmology, epistemology, and even eschatology (beliefs concerning the "end-times") to cover the basic motivation in most public activity and discourse: watch your own back. Anything that will disadvantage any outgroup means more resources for me and my descendants.

That night, I took my Bible to the family living room and left it in the bookcase. I retrieved the B volume of the family encyclopedia and retired to my room. Thus began my lifelong study of Buddhism.


Fast-forward four decades, now, to the twenty-first century.

Our daughter, who is nineteen, has moved back in. I take advantage of this by asking her to accompany me to a rally at the state capital for moral support. She's a natural-born rabble-rouser, and, unlike me, absolutely fearless.

We find the freeway heavily fogged-in on the valley floor, which was once a seabed and is now a flat expanse of farmland mostly given over to industrial-strength grass seed farming. It's always beautiful, even so, with mountain ranges on either hand. Huge flocks of sheep flash by, alternating with mysterious wetlands. From one of these a ragged gaggle of white snow geese lifts off, flashing past our windshield in the first blaze of sunlight.

At the capital, we park on a back street in a quiet neighborhood, one of the few in the vicinity with no parking time limits posted, check our faces in the mirror, gather up our purses and walk toward the State buildings. LGBTQ people and allies have descended upon the State Capitol Building to lobby for a bipartisan human rights bill, introduced by a Republican, written to end discrimination against citizens on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity and expression. A thousand of us march round to the front of the Capitol, where a few well dressed senators and other politicians will address the crowd. Across the sidewalk, about eight dour-looking men, holding placards with slogans on them, shout something to the effect that God hates fags and we will all burn in Hell.

Brave men, carrying their convictions in their hands amid a sea of angry opponents. Somewhere in my heart, I admire them and wish them well.

I feel moved to shake hands with a very tall, quite handsome, well-dressed, bearded counter-demonstrator. "How do you do, sir?" He almost reaches for my hand, then peers at me suspiciously. I have been on hormone replacement therapy for two years and electrolysis for one, am wearing my best cranberry ribbed turtleneck, black elastic-waistband slacks, silver hoop earrings and have worn my curlers for ten hours the night before, in an effort to look my best. I'm sure I've got the voice right, too. But something tips him off. Is it the big shoulders? Hand size? Some aspect of posture? Or maybe it's the Adam's apple that has protected me for so many years, and which I can't afford, yet, to have removed.

"You, you ... y-y-you're a sodomite!" And he withdraws his hand. An abomination. Mustn't touch.

"Umm ... I don't think so, sir. I've been married to the same woman for twenty-eight years." And worked five days a week the whole time, took my kids to your Vacation Bible Schools, and paid my taxes, same as you, I mean to add. And: I did it your way, dammit, until I could no longer stand having to bear false witness. And I almost lasted it out, all for you. So you could give me a little credit here.

But he is gone already. He fades back into the tiny pack, glaring at the crowded steps above me, shouting with redoubled effort.

My daughter puts her arm around my shoulder as we march up the marble steps past them, looks me straight in the eye to be sure I'm paying attention, and says "I so love you, Mommy2." It is one of those stunningly defining moments that give life to a parent's soul.

And we go and stand with my people, gay, straight, trans, queer, and intersex: grandmothers, infants, school children, mothers, kids in purple hair, old men in their seventies and into their eighties. A couple of white-haired women standing near us have been together for forty years. One achingly beautiful child in a rainbow dress, with rainbow ribbons in her hair, poses with her moms, one white, one black, for an entire roll of pictures, her smile growing more and more radiant with each click.

We hear, enjoy and applaud the speeches, but my daughter and I find ourselves more interested in the inscription on the wall behind the podium. This was carved, in letters a foot high, to the left of the entrance many years ago:


As in, the foundation of a free society is justice. I remember then the passage from the prophet for whom one of my sons is named: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). And at that moment, I join hands with my queer sisters and brothers, and sing, weeping.


This nation is now in the hands of what should have been, at most, a tiny movement of malcontents, easily shrugged off by thoughtful citizens, whether Christian or otherwise. But their ranks have swelled into the millions since the 1970s, while most of us were not paying attention, with obsessed right-to-lifers, paranoid white supremacists, and various keepers of narrow, antidemocratic agendas working together to confuse and co-opt mainstream evangelical Christians by using the same biblical and sectarian language with which they, and I, were raised. Their two persistently raised wedge issues are homosexuality and abortion, the same ones used by Hitler and Himmler's moral-enforcement agency, a wing of the SS, in the 1930s. But they are also interested in systematically weakening and eliminating public debate, public space, schools, universities, libraries, and almost all means of carrying out and disseminating the results of scientific inquiry, especially the teaching of environmental science, evolutionary biology, geology, and even astrophysics. Every progressive on the planet now has a common and implacable foe, one which is growing daily. And it's not even Osama Bin Ladin, though he has some similar ideas.

The core theorists of this movement are known as Reconstructionists, Dominionists or Theonomists. The idea is to reconstruct Christianity as a vehicle for taking over government so that God may have dominion instead of man, by the re-instituting of God's Old Testament moral laws (theonomy). The Old Testament is, for them, the proper law of the land, obliterating the Constitution and the United States Code, or the laws of any other country whatever, for their mandate, which they believe will bring the end of history and the return of Christ, is to conquer the world.

All this turns upon the interpretation of a single Greek word: plerosai. It occurs in this passage: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill [plerosai]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17-19)."

Christians in general translate this as fulfill, and talk about the New Testament as the rule for Christians (hence new) and replacing the outer Mosaic Law-by-rules with an inner Law of following the Spirit, by faith, hope, and charity. Paul, in the epistle to the Galatians, goes to much trouble to explain this. Tossing aside two thousand years of Pauline exegesis, the Theonomist theologian R. J. Rushdoony, founder of the Chalcedon Institute, and his followers declare that plerosai means "establish" or "confirm" -- even though this is not how it's used elsewhere in the New Testament (The Christian Reconstruction Movement and its Blueprints For Dominion, Greg Loren Durand ). For the Theonomist, the moral (but, oddly, not the ceremonial) law of Moses shall be applicable to all the land in perpetuity. In case you're thinking you have never seen these people, think 700 Club.

Assume for a moment, that they are right. Christianity may be finally turning to the correct interpretation of the words of Jesus as reported in that passage. If so, all the following will be applicable (See Lev. 15-27):

If a man has an emission of semen, he shall wash his whole body in water, and be unclean until the evening. 
A woman shall be unclean for seven days after her menses begin and she cannot be touched. Whoever touches anything on which she sits will wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. If a man lies with her at this time they shall both be cast out from among the Lord's people. 
You may not eat any fruit from a tree you have planted until the fifth year. You may not let your cattle breed with another kind. You may not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Nor shall you wear anything with two different fabrics in its construction. Each of the four corners of your cloak must have a tassel.
Tattoos are strictly forbidden. You will not trim the edges of your beard. When an old white-haired man enters the room you must stand up.
You will treat your slaves with kindness. If they scrape together enough money to buy themselves from you at a fair price, you will not refuse them the sale. 
If a man sleeps with his neighbors' wife they shall both be executed. If a man sleeps with another man's slave girl they shall both be put to death. If two men sleep together they shall be executed (it doesn't seem to specify whether they have to have had sex). 
If you have a rebellious son who will not obey you or the elders, take him outside the city and throw rocks at him until he is dead.
If you obey all this and much, much more, you will always have good weather and good crops and your enemies will always fall before your sword. Five of you shall be able to chase a hundred of them.
You may have seen similar lists. The complete one is very long. You can find it in the top drawer of the dresser or side table in almost every motel room in the United States.

The world as we knew it on September 10, 2001 is gone. And of those who plan to profit from the confusion, not all speak Arabic. The two new religions are planning to kill each other off, yes, but both are principally bent on the destruction of Western Civilization. There are going to be sacrifices made, and if you are a progressive, you and I and my daughter are sacrifices some people will be willing to make. If you believe this is an exaggeration, run an Internet search to see if you can find some widely-disseminated sermons and newsletter articles -- both Islamist and Dominionist -- calmly and reasonably explicating the South Asian Tsunami as a punishment for homosexuality. And that's just the appetizer.


As we drive home, using fossil fuels, of course, in the uncharacteristically hot winter sunshine, my daughter asks about the apparent belief system of the men who had shouted at us to go back in the closet. "What do you and Mommy1 think about the Bible and gay people?"

What to say? "Judge not, lest you be judged" will come off a little pat. Everyone knows that one already, and the bigots never seem to think it applies to them....

As a counselor rather critically noted recently, when asked how I feel, I tend to resort to a story. But I know I'm not the only one who's ever done that. So I try this one on her:

"Well, dear, people used to crowd around the country rabbi and ask him about this stuff. Some of them were hotshot lawyers whose job was to know all the proof texts, so the power structure sent them to hang out in the crowds and see if they could trip him up on his teachings and get him arrested for stirring up the people.

"So this dude, who's trained all his young life in the laws of Moses, stands up and says, "Hey! Rabbi! What do I do to get to live forever?'

"'What does it say in your Book say about that?' replies the itinerant rabbi from the boondocks.

"So the lawyer says: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

"'That's right', says the rabbi. 'If you do that you're gonna live forever.'

"Everybody's standing around, looking at these two, and thinking, uh-huh, the quick-thinking traveling preacher has got the big shots by the beard again.

"So the lawyer looks around, sees people grinning at him, and so he sticks out his lower lip and spreads his hands in a kind of apologetic shrug.

"'Sure, but that's just it. Who exactly is my neighbor?'

"'The rabbi looks him over. The kid is bright, he's moving up through the infrastructure, but he seems to mean well too. Might be worth saving.

"'Tell you what. Sit down a minute, I've got a story for you.' Everybody moves in close to hear the story.

"'There's this traveling salesman, kind of a Willy Loman type, puts up a load of shoes or whatever on his donkey to sell down at Jericho. On the way there, in the middle of nowhere, a bunch of local guys relieve him of his stock, his gear, his transportation, his clothes, and his last water bottle, and beat him senseless for good measure. Then they clear out, leaving him there for the vultures to find.

"'After awhile, along comes a priest. He sees the guy lying there, not moving, covered with, by this time, dried, caked blood. He's not a bad person, the priest; he'd go over and check the situation out, but he has responsibilities -- spelled out in detail in Leviticus -- to the people up in Jerusalem. If he handles this person, he'll have to touch the blood -- and/or the nakedness of another man -- and that means he won't be able to do his job, because he'll have been polluted. So he crosses the road and passes by, maybe making a mental note to call 911 when he gets to town.

"'Nothing happens for awhile, and the vultures are starting to pay attention. But then here comes this other guy. He's a lawyer, of course, just like you [significant glance; crowd chuckles] and again, a good person with duties and responsibilities and mustn't get polluted -- can quote you chapter and verse verbatim on the things that God has required of him in serving the people properly. There are real penalties for goofing this up, so he, too crosses the road and moves along, a little faster, maybe, thinking about making that same 911 call.

"'So he's been gone awhile, and the sun's getting really hot now, and the first couple of vultures are hopping toward the body, and now a third guy shows up.

"'Any idea who?'

"Here the lawyer shakes his head. People in the surrounding audience turn to one another, raise their eyebrows, make a few suggestions to one another, shake their heads as well, some of them shrugging.

"'Well, as luck would have it, he's from Samaria.'

"Here a collective groan rises up from all the rabbi's hearers. They should have known; they can see where the story's going now, and almost nobody's happy with it. Samaritans, like lobsters, infants born out of wedlock, shrimp, nocturnal emissions, compound interest, lepers, fried rattlesnake, men with crushed testicles, bacon bits, camels, bloody victims, menstruating women, rock badgers, hares, sea urchins, octopus, homosexuals, and dead cows, are, of course abominations, meaning God can't abide 'em, and so neither can the chosen people. You don't marry a Samaritan, eat with a Samaritan, pray with a Samaritan, sleep with a Samaritan, give the time of day to a Samaritan, sit down to a cup of tea with a Samaritan, or even read a book by a Samaritan, if you can possibly help it. Because, although they are not Jewish, they insist on worshiping the Jewish God, but haven't got the rituals and such down right and so can't possibly get to Heaven.

"You can tell this story to a white supremacist and you know exactly who to substitute for the Samaritan. Or, for the Irish Catholic, there's the Protestant. Ad infinitum. You can imagine the expression on the young lawyers' face at this point.

"So the rabbi says: 'The vultures hop away as the Samaritan dude walks over to check out the body. He discovers signs of life, rolls the salesman over, gives him a drink of water, pulls off his own cloak and wraps him in it -- blood all over it by now -- loads him on his Samaritan-sweat-bedewed donkey -- maybe has to leave behind some of his own load, I forget -- and slowly and carefully, falling farther and farther behind on his own schedule as he does so, because there's a really broken-up man saddlebagged across his donkey's back, and the road's rough -- takes him to the next little town down the way. Right about sunset he pulls up outside the local roadhouse, unloads the still half-conscious victim from the donkey and carries him in, and asks the manager for a bath, hot meal, and a bed for him.

"'Look here, man,' says the Samaritan to the manager, 'I'm really running behind now, so I gotta keep going --' here he hands him his Visa card '--just run a tab on this poor guy while I'm gone, and when I make my return run, I'll settle up with you. Cool?'

Cool. But don't let's shake on it, the manager might say with his eyes.

"'Kay,' says the rabbi, standing up and brushing off his robe a bit, looking around at the crowd, then returning his piercing gaze to the young lawyer. 'Of these three, which one was a neighbor to the shoe salesman?'

"The lawyer looks up at him. He can't even bring himself to use the word that names the abomination. 'The ... the ... the one that was kind to him,' he says, reluctantly.

"The rabbi gives him that unsettlingly kindly smile he's famous for. 'That's right,' he says, softly. 'Do just like him, and you will live.'"


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